Parking Continues to Contribute to the Fight Against Climate Change


Parking Continues to Contribute to the Fight Against Climate Change

In recognition of the importance of combating climate change, the design and construction industries continue to raise the bar on what it means to do their part. Parking designers are playing a significant part in setting the standard. Programs such as LEED and Parksmart are providing sustainable parking best practices and raising awareness. Green building standards and Reach codes in states such as California often require owners to take a deeper look at how parking can be more sustainable. Let’s take a look at a few examples that go above and beyond. 

In Pursuit of Net Zero & More

Studies performed by the U.S. Department of Energy show that residential and commercial buildings consume nearly 40 percent of the country’s energy. Designing future facilities – including parking facilities – that consume only as much energy as they can produce on site can have a significant impact on climate change and creating a more sustainable future. 

Parking structures have relatively low energy needs, and in locations that experience high potential for solar power, such as California and Colorado, a photovoltaic array on the structure’s roof can pave the way towards a net zero parking facility.

In pursuit of net zero energy and LEED Gold certification for the County Office Building 3 complex, the County of San Mateo elected to integrate a 1,350 panel PV system covering the full roof of the parking structure that supports the new building. Annual production of the array is expected to be around 900,000 kilowatt hours.

Taking advantage of the high potential for solar power in Colorado, the Denver Health Acoma Parking Garage has actually achieved net positive energy. Approximately 300 days of the year, the structure’s PV array generates enough power to not only run the parking structure, but also create a surplus that is fed back into the grid. A 400-square-foot storage room accommodates the high volume of lithium batteries required for energy storage.

Going Beyond Your Common Swale

Long thought of simply as waste, stormwater runoff management is now an important element of sustainable infrastructure, as it filters pollutants, reduces flood risks and prevents erosion. In parking facilities, this can take the form of vegetated bio-retention swales and planters. However, it can also play a much larger role.

As part of an airport-wide initiative on sustainable stormwater management, the San Diego International Airport Terminal 2 Parking Plaza features an innovative 100,000 gallon underground holding system. Storage pipes 36-inches in diameter beneath the bottom level of the structure capture, treat and reuse nearly two million gallons of rainwater annually to feed the central utility plant (CUP), which uses nearly 30,000 gallons of potable water each day to manage the temperature in the airport terminals. As the airport would otherwise need to use city water to heat and cool the CUP, capturing and reusing stormwater preserves that resource for other uses.

This stormwater collection process played a key role in the Parking Plaza being awarded Parksmart Gold from the U.S. Green Building Council and Envision Gold from the Institute of Sustainable Infrastructure.

Navigating the Complexities of an Electric Future

The state of California’s mandate that all new passenger vehicles sold in in the state be zero emission by 2035 will likely have ripple effects across the country. In order to encourage greater adoption of this more sustainable method of transportation, sufficient charging stations must be available. While this increases the electrical load on a parking facility, it paves the way for a more global sustainable benefit.

Armed with this knowledge, when Palo Alto needed more public parking to support a new Public Safety building planned for downtown, its leaders saw an opportunity to invest in the electrical future. Design of the new parking structure included 32 EV charging spaces that were available to users on opening day, with 125 additional spaces wired for future installations.

Such ambitious EV requirements pose unique design challenges to accommodate the increase in both electrical capacity and load. The transformer at the California Avenue Garage had to be upsized to accommodate chargers for 125 future EV spaces. In order to lessen the overall power demand, 95 percent of the EV spaces in the facility will utilize power sharing dual chargers. When two cars are plugged into a dual charger, each receives 50 percent power, instead of twice the power, which will decrease the electrical requirements by almost half compared to providing single chargers.

Aspiring to Green

Beyond the sustainable elements of reducing the heat island effect, providing a means to manage stormwater, and even improving air quality, green roofs also have the benefit of providing an amenity and preserving valuable public space.

Stanford University has taken this approach with a number of underground parking structures. The green roofs over the Roble Field and Manzanita parking facilities allow the University to meet growing parking needs while preserving recreational space for students. Roble Field provides open grass space for students to gather, relax and enjoy recreational sports, while Manzanita also offers athletic courts for basketball and volleyball. A parking structure at the Medical Center preserves Governor’s Lane, a historic pedestrian path that runs across the site.

Pomona College installed a green roof over its parking facility that is sized to NCAA standards for women’s and men’s lacrosse and soccer. Bio-swales take the storm water collected from the playing field and filter it back into the ground. The use of synthetic turf instead of natural grass reduces irrigation by 50,000 gallons of water per week and reduces discharge into the environment by eliminating fertilizers.

Working Together to Strive Higher 

The U.S. Green Building Council’s Parksmart rating system sets the standard for incorporating sustainable best parking practices in the design, management and technology of a stand-alone parking structure. Given that parking facilities can have a lifespan of up to 50 years, Bronze, Silver or Gold certification demonstrates a commitment to a sustainable future. 

Achieving Parksmart certification becomes a collaboration between the owner, design professional and contractor. Of the 248 points available in the Parksmart program, over 50 percent are driven by the designer, more than 30 percent are under the primary control of the owner and approximately 10 percent are controlled by the contractor. Numerous points require collaboration to provide the documentation, so careful planning and early understanding of the points necessary for certification is critical to success.

By working together and identifying sustainable opportunities early in design, parking can do its part to combat climate change and protect our environment. We continue to strive higher by raising the bar and looking for new ways to exceed it. 

Francisco Navarro, Director,, and Taylor Kim, Senior Project Manager, at Watry Design.


Article contributed by:
Francisco Navarro and Taylor Kim
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